In which I hazard a guess regarding the future of (American) football
I recently ran across an article with two very significant data points. Here’s the first:
High school football enrollment is down 4.5 percent over the past decade, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
This is leading some high schools to disband their football teams – something that is shocking to the average American. The article cites several causes, including worries about concussions, as well as an increasing number of immigrant families for whom football (in the American sense) is not relevant.
While these may be the underlying causes for the decline of high school football participation, there’s another surface cause that affects things.
Youth levels of football, leagues high schools lean on as feeder systems, saw a nearly 30 percent drop in participation between 2008 and 2013, according to data collected by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
That’s an even bigger drop, with ramifications for the future of high school football.
But that’s not what concerns me – and you. What should concern us is when we extrapolate these numbers.
After all, if a decline in youth football leads to a decline in high school football, what does that mean for the future of college football?
And the National Football League?
Will the ranks of football players be decimated, causing the NFL to reduce to four teams and for the television networks to only offer $4.99 to cover NFL games?
I don’t know about the youth football figures, but the high school football declines appear to be regional.
More schools are fielding football teams nationwide, albeit with fewer players, led by surges in such states as Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas, which together have added 150 teams in the past five years. But other regions – namely the Midwest and Northeast – are shedding high school football programs at a significant rate. Michigan has seen a net loss of 57 teams in the past five years. Missouri has lost 24. Pennsylvania has lost 12.
So it could be that future NFL players will come from certain regions of the country. This is not shocking – your average Major League Baseball player is more likely to come from California than from New York.
And perhaps the NFL may end up doing what baseball has been doing for years – importing talent from other countries to do the jobs that Americans don’t want to do. This may be a tall order – the NFL’s attempts to establish professional teams in Europe haven’t worked out – but for the right money, it’s likely that third world ballplayers may be induced to participate in a sport that protective American parents won’t let their kids play.
And you also have to remember that the talent at the top level is limited. Even if youth football declines by 90%, the NFL will still be able to field 32 teams. And perhaps even in that dramatic instance, the quality of the pro game will not diminish significantly, since only the elite of the elite make it to the pros anyway.